Temple-Wyoming Preview: Al Yankovic Edition

Temple-Wyoming Preview: Al Yankovic Edition

"I said

A-(A)-

L-(L)-

B-(B)-

U-(U)-

…QUERQUE-(QUERQUE)" --riff--

The Temple Owls are set to take over the World Wide Leader Saturday afternoon with games on both ESPN and ESPN 2. You'll find the football team on the flagship at 2 p.m ET.

Temple's matchup with Wyoming is the Owls' second bowl appearance in the last three seasons, but only their third in the last thirty-two. Having lost the 2009 EagleBank Bowl to UCLA, the program has not claimed a postseason victory since 1979.

Fortunately for their hopes of making history, they've drawn a very favorable opponent in the Cowboys.

[breaking down the Gildan New Mexico Bowl after the jump]

The Temple Rushing Attack vs. The Wyoming Defense
As Temple fans were delighted to find out upon learning the identity of their bowl opponent, Wyoming is absolutely dreadful against the run. Of all 120 FBS schools, the Cowboys finished the 2011 season 114th in rush yards allowed, surrendering an average of 230.1 yards per game.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Owls' offense finished seventh in the nation on the ground with an average of 256.7 yards per game. This is the kind of discrepancy you're just aching to find if you're filling out a 35-game bowl pick 'em (believe me, I did one yesterday).

For reference, when Wyoming met Utah State—the sixth best team in the country on the run, and only one spot ahead of Temple in that category—earlier this year, they were burned for a total of 308 rush yards. Pressing the point further, that game was only one of four occasions in which Wyoming yielded more than 300 rush yards this season.

Temple coach Steve Addazio has asserted over and over that his team prides itself on tough defense and an ability to run the football. Should they succeed on both those fronts against Wyoming, it stands to reason that they'll be leaving New Mexico a very happy football team.

Bernard Pierce's Last Game as an Owl?
Temple tailback Bernard Pierce could catapult himself up the draft charts with the a big performance in what could be his last college game.

Pierce has already submitted the perfunctory paperwork to begin the process of potentially leaving school for the professional ranks, though we understand this is a fairly common move for upper classmen and doesn't figure to shed any real light on his future intentions.

Still, its tough to think this won't be the last time Temple fans see Bernard play in an Owl uniform. After a history making junior season in which he claimed the schools all-time records for touchdowns in a game (5), season (25) and career (52), Pierce seems destined for the NFL. Factoring in his injury history and a possible hesitation to come back for his senior year out of fear for depreciating his draft stock, it stands to reason that the next time you see Bernard at Lincoln Financial Field, he'll playing on a Sunday.

The Temple Defense vs. the Wyoming Offense
Switching sides of the ball, the Cowboy attack isn't going to make life easy on the Owls' D. Posting the fourth-best turnover margin and eleventh fewest sacks allowed in the country, Wyoming won't be making many mistakes of its own.

Look for the Temple defense to hopefully benefit from extended rests provided by the offense's success on the ground. In the event Temple is able to control the clock and keep its Wyoming counterparts off the field, then the defense should be fresh to both shut down the Cowboys' offense, and take some runs at Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith.

As a matter of almost completely inconsequential note, Smith's backup is one Colby Kirkegaard. I just want to get one look at that kid for the sole purpose of a making a "Soren's kid" joke a la the Eagles' own Mike Kafka.

Wyoming Somewhat at Home in Albuquerque?
Saturday will be Wyoming's second trip to the New Mexico Bowl in the last three seasons. In their last appearance in 2009, the Cowboys defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 35-28 in double-overtime.

It never hurts to have a bit of familiarity with a given location, especially considering the struggles for most college programs with any and all forms of travel.

Just Where in the Hell is Temple Anyway?
Good question. I was amused to see Keith Pompey's Friday report in which Wyoming LB Brian Hendricks confessed to not knowing where Temple was. I often wonder when the Owls play a game on national television if individuals in other parts of the country have any idea where the school is actually located. I now know that their cultural cache does not extend to our nation's northwest. Funny story.

(Ir)Relevant History
In the two team's only meeting, Wyoming downed Temple 38-23 in September of 1990. Not sure that outcome has a whole lot of import here.

And Finally
We've been working off and on with musical themes all season. Though the choice of this track off the 1999 Running with Scissors album felt a bit obvious (I always sound like Patrick Bateman when I re-read these sections), I succumbed to the realization that I might never again have the opportunity to pair this particular song with another sporting event.

Whatever tomorrow's outcome, thanks for following along this season. I hope to keep plenty of you around for our ongoing basketball coverage.

"So, whaddaya say, Al (aheheh), shall we press on?"

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson disagree on mechanical issues

CINCINNATI – Normally upbeat and positive, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz gave a terse answer, at least by his standards.

After the Eagles’ 32-14 loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay), a game that was probably the worst of his young career, Wentz was asked about his proclivity for overthrowing his targets.

“Bad throw,” Wentz said blankly. “Just like last week.”

Those bad throws have been coming more and more frequently in recent weeks for the second-overall pick. After throwing one interception in his first five games, he’s thrown 10 in his last seven, including his first three-interception day on Sunday. A common thread has been overthrows.

When head coach and former QBs coach Doug Pederson was asked about those high throws from his prized quarterback, he said, “It’s strictly mechanics.” Pederson elaborated, saying they need to get Wentz off his back foot and stepping into throws. And then there were batted passes too.

“There were opportunities, obviously,” Pederson said. “Again, he's a young quarterback who missed a lot of time in the preseason, but now we just need to keep cleaning those things up.”

There might be a problem, though.

Wentz doesn’t seem to think there’s anything to clean up.

After Sunday’s embarrassing loss, the rookie said his mechanics feel the same now as they did when the Eagles started the season with three consecutive wins, before he had ever thrown a pick in the NFL.

“I don't think it's the mechanics,” Wentz said. “You make mistakes. Things happen, and that's just the bottom line.”

Is there anything that could be affecting his mechanics?

“I don't think so,” Wentz said. “You throw the ball 60 times, you're going to miss some. That kind of happens.”

Wentz seemed hesitant to take blame for his shaky play on Sunday (see breakdown of Wentz's performance), but he is right. Sixty passing attempts is an awful lot. In fact, it’s a record for an Eagles rookie and it’s the second most passing attempts a rookie quarterback has ever thrown in a game (Chris Weinke threw 63 in 2001).  

The reason for that, at least partially, on Sunday was the Eagles’ never got going offensively and their defense was porous at best, which led to the Bengals’ taking a 19-0 lead into halftime (see 10 observations from the loss). They had to try to throw their way back into the game.

“You never want your quarterback to throw 60 times, coming from behind,” Pederson said. “We put ourselves in a bind early in the football game. It’s going to be a learning lesson for him, obviously. We have to take a hard look at it. But by no means, the fact that he stood in there and still led the football team. He took some shots, but still stood in there and just shows you the kind of character and the toughness we have.”

For Wentz, who was once though to be the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, the last couple months have been understandably difficult.

In the first four games of the season, he had a passer rating over 100 three times. He hasn't broken 100 since then and his 58.2 rating on Sunday was the second-worst of the season, behind his 52.4 in a winning effort against the Vikings.

“You just can't get down,” Wentz said. “You've got to stay optimistic. Obviously, the results are tough as of late. We're kind of on a skid. Like I've been saying, this is a good group of guys, a good locker room. Guys are in it until the end.”

It’s important to remember that, initially, Wentz wasn’t drafted to play this season. The original plan was to have him sit this season, but he was thrust into action after the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford.

Ultimately, Wentz will be judged for his play in years to come. For now, though, he and the Eagles have to try to find a way to fix this.

How do they do it?

“Obviously, we're on a skid,” Wentz said. “There's nothing really to change. We've just got to lock in and we've got to be more disciplined. At the same time, you don't get down. That's what I've been saying. This locker room, guys aren't going to get down. We've just got to be better with our discipline and just keep attacking. Obviously, we're in a tough spot, but we've just got to take it one game at a time.”

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

Eagles' defense's 'frustrating' lack of impact plays behind team's slide

CINCINNATI -- It wasn’t all that long ago that the Eagles were proud owners of one of the NFL’s finest defenses.

Just a few weeks ago.

Coming out of that Atlanta win that elevated the Eagles to 5-4 and left them in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt, the defense ranked sixth in the NFL in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, fifth in sacks, fourth in takeaways and fifth on third down.

Pick a category, they were exceptional.

Pick a category, they’re not anymore.

The once-dominating defense continued an alarming downward spiral Sunday, allowing an undermanned Bengals team to score on its first six possessions on the way to a demoralizing 32-14 win over the Eagles at Paul Brown Stadium (see Instant Replay).

“Our goal is to get into the playoffs and give ourselves a shot to get to our ultimate goal of the Super Bowl,” cornerback Leodis McKelvin said. “As you can see right now, it’s not happening.”

Any hope the Eagles had of reaching the playoffs has evaporated. After their third straight loss and seventh in their last nine games, they’re officially playing out the string.

And not doing it very well (see 10 observations).

Six of their last seven opponents have scored 26 or more points. The last three quarterbacks they’ve faced have combined for five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 932 passing yards, zero sack yards and a 71 percent completion percentage.

Worst of all, they’ve allowed points on 17 of 27 meaningful drives over the last three weeks in losses to the Seahawks, Packers and Bengals.

“It’s very disappointing,” Fletcher Cox said after his eighth straight game without a sack.  “As an organization and as a team, it’s very disappointing.

“Today was not one of our days. We’ve got to get off the field on third down, we’ve got to minimize the penalties, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get our offense the ball back.”

We knew the offense would be a work in progress. Young and banged up. But the defense — especially the defensive line — was supposed to be the strength of this team. An elite unit.

Instead, they’ve been terrible. And getting worse.

“We had a bunch of goals this year,” Brandon Graham said. “We’re prideful men, and we don’t like to go out like this.”

How does a defense go from one of the best of the league the first half of the season to one of the worst the second half?

By allowing a historic number of third-down conversions (22-for-43 the last three weeks), by not forcing turnovers (three straight games without an interception), by not getting pressure (one sack for zero yards the last three games, no sacks the last two games), and by committing penalties at a near-record pace.

“It’s frustrating, man,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “Past couple weeks have been frustrating. To not get off on third down when that’s something we do well? And the past couple weeks to not get it done? It sucks. 

“We’re mad at ourselves. We got them into these 3rd-and-long situations but it’s one thing or another, and they convert it. Frustrating.”

During their current three-game losing streak, the Eagles have no interceptions and one sack. 

Their top playmakers – Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jordan Hicks, Cox – have been largely ineffective.

They Eagles did force a couple fumbles Sunday long after the game had been decided, but nobody on this defense has made a meaningful impact play since Leodis McKelvin picked off Matthew Ryan in the Falcons game.

A month ago.

“If you don’t make those plays, it keeps the drive moving, you can’t get off the field on third down, you can’t get turnovers, you can’t get sacks … all the things that made us us good all season,” Carroll said.

“That’s what we hung our hat on and the past couple weeks we haven’t been able to get them and you see when we don’t get them what an offense can do. 

“We have to get back to what we do, and that’s getting turnovers, getting after the quarterback and getting off the field on third down.”

On the heels of brilliance from Wilson and Rodgers, Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, a 130.0 passer rating.

The Bengals even ran for 80 yards as the Eagles allowed 400 or more yards for the third time in a row, something that’s only happened twice previously in franchise history.

“You all see it out there,” McKelvin said. “We can’t expect to win when we have those type of mistakes and not executing plays. We can’t go backwards. On both sides, we can’t go backwards. We can’t go backwards as a defense, we can’t go backwards as an offense. We’ve got to make those plays.”

This is the first time in 33 years the Eagles have had a three-game stretch in which the defense totalled just one combined sack and interception. 

It’s really hard to be that ineffective.

“It is uncharacteristic of us,” McLeod said. “Have to credit teams sometimes, but a lot of times we’ve shot ourselves in the foot in a lot of ways, not doing the things we need to do defensively to win games. 

“Most of the time early in the year we got turnovers, we got stops, and helped the team win. We’ve just got to find ways — myself included — to help us out any way we can.”

The Eagles have lost three straight games by double digits after opening the season with three straight wins by double digits.

They’re clearly not headed in the right direction, and the defense is leading that charge.

First six weeks? They allowed 12.5 points per game, and the Eagles were 4-2.

Last six weeks? They’ve allowed 26.2 points per game, and the Eagles are 1-5.

“It felt like we were playing pretty well on first down and getting killed on third down,” Hicks said. “In third-and-long situations, those are situations where usually we win. We didn’t win them today. 

“Credit the offenses we’ve played, they’ve taken care of the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job getting turnovers, setting our offense up and getting them field position. 

“That’s what defense is all about. Being aggressive and getting the ball back for your offense, and we haven’t been able to do that.

“We made some plays (at the end), but it’s too little too late. We’ve got to come out from the start and play with that type of intensity.”

It doesn’t look like the Eagles have quit. They’ve just stopped making plays.

At every position.

“It’s not lack of effort, we just have to self-evaluate ourselves and get back to the way we were playing before and figure it out,” McLeod said.

“I believe we’re going to stay together. It’s just disappointing because we work so hard and to fall short of what we ultimately want to do, it’s hard as a player.”